what i wish for


The day was unseasonably warm, so most of the guests at Katie’s first birthday party had made their way outside. A cousin and I sat on the steps watching the little ones swarm the swing set. We intervened in a couple of near misses, but for the most part we sat, watched and chatted about the kids.

Her daughter called to her from the swings, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Can you push me pleeeeeease?”

“I’m comin’,” she called back with a sigh.

“I can’t wait until Katie starts calling me like that,” I said. “It must be amazing to hear your baby call you Mommy.”

As her daughter yelled again, “Mommmmmmy!!!” my cousin chuckled. “Careful what you wish for, kid.”


I never should have remembered that conversation. It was one of a million others just like it.

Within short order, Katie would indeed be calling me (and calling me and calling me and calling me.)

So why? Why did that one moment – among so many others – become an indelible memory?


At nearly four, Brooke still did not use my name. She didn’t use anyone’s name. She threw various shards of language into the ether hoping the right person would pick up on them and somehow divine what she wanted or needed. It was the best she could do with the tools that she had.

Besides, she had other ways to convey with whom she was trying to interact. Nothing if not resourceful, she’d pull me up from the table by a single finger. She’d hold it out in front of us as we walked across the floor until I’d find myself pointing at the refrigerator. Her little hands would guide my finger to the handle and she’d wait. I’d open the door and she’d say ‘This.’ I’d point at everything in the fridge until – behold! – we’d found it. Not exactly, “Mama, may have an apple, please?” but hell, it worked.


Over time, she began to use our names. It was not a natural process. Like everything else surrounding her use of language it had to be slowly, methodically introduced – then shaped, prompted and practiced.

At seven, she now plays with my name.

“Hi, Meeeeeema,” she says, waiting for me to laugh and say, “Hi, Breeeeeke.”

“I love you, Moh-ma,” she says (with a long ‘O’), knowing that I’ll say, “I love you too, Broh-ke.”

I’m Mama in the day-to-day.

I’m ‘Mom’ when she needs help.

I’m ‘Mommy’ when she’s scared.


Last night, we snuggled together for a little TV time before bed. Her arm stretched across my chest and her little fingers tickled my neck. Blue’s Clues played in the background. I wouldn’t have moved on a bet.

“Mama?” she said quietly.


“I love you.”

As I have so many times over the years, I thought of my conversation with my cousin. And then I thought of all of my friends whose children don’t yet speak, but who will never give up on hearing their sweet voices say their names.

I squeezed my girl as I said, “I love you too, baby. I love you too.”


I wonder if, soon after the Inauguration, the new President gets a little kick out of being called ‘Mr President.’ I imagine that for a while he revels in the novelty of it. Like every time anyone addresses him he takes a moment for a little inner chuckle – ‘Dude, that’s ME! I’m the President!’ I wonder if he calls people into his office just to hear them say it. OK, probably not. There’s all that business of running the country and everything.

But I have to imagine that’s pretty close to it – to how I feel EVERY time my youngest child uses my name. ‘That’s ME!’ I think. ‘I’M HER MOM.’ I can think of no greater title to hold and no greater gift than hearing it from her lips.


Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

In honor of all of the mothers who long to hear their babies call their names – whether their ‘babies’ are two or four or ten or twenty – please, consider a donation to any of the amazing charities who support our community and who work alongside us to bring our children’s voices forth from the silence.

Because every mother deserves that gift.

Thank you.



Autism Speaks


22 thoughts on “what i wish for

  1. A wish – a yearning – hope – waiting to hear a spontaneous “Mama” or “I love you” – may it come to all of us in its own time.

    Happy Mother’s Day Jess and all the moms out there!

  2. I often say be careful for what you wish for….and am often surprised and just how much those words haunt me in the most profound way! Happy Mothers Day D O A M, from your sista in arms! X0.

  3. Made me cry. My son “asks” for things in the same exact way! He is still non-verbal so we play this “game” often. Sometimes he gives up on my inability to understand him and climbs to get whatever it is himself. Unfortunately, it’s often something I don’t want him to have at that moment.

    When he allows me the chance to meet his needs, he signs “please”. The “specialists” said he would never use it independently and appropriately. They are proven wrong daily.

    I “hear” his “I love you”s when he sits quietly in my lap (usually right before he sleeps, because otherwise he is not EVER still) playing with my hair. Then he stops suddenly puts his forehead against mine and stares deeply into my eye just millimeters from his. He squints and squeezes my neck and my heart hears “I love you” louder than ears could hear shouts.

  4. I was just reminding myself of this early this morning, when my son woke up at 4 am and was babbling away. Hard to believe this is the same boy who cannot even say yes or thank you or even his name two years ago.
    Here’s to our children, the reason we can celebrate mother’s day tomorrow, 🙂

  5. Beautiful Jess!

    The I love you and Mommy came for me last month and I wish for them for everyone whohas yet to hear them.

    Happy Mother’s Day!



  6. When my autistic grandson was two years old, the First Steps coordinator asked my daughter what she wanted the most. She said,”to hear my son’s voice”. With the help of First Steps and prayer, she indeed did hear his voice. He isn’t overly talkative, but definitely knows how to use his voice! Devin is very intelligent and is a wonderful Mother’s Day present.

  7. I have ached to hear “mommy” from my 4 year old autistic son… not just for the satisfaction of hearing his voice, but to know that he knows me and that it matters that I am here; to be the person he calls for in need; to have that bond with my baby where “mommy” is more than a label, but a declaration of love. My wish came true 6 weeks ago, shortly after we started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet… Every time I hear his variations of “mommy” – sometimes drawn out like “mahhhhhmeeee” and sometimes crisp and short – I feel a little bit more hope that this is just the beginning…

    Thank you for sharing your journey and Happy Mother’s Day!

  8. God Bless all the mothers of children with and without disabilities, if only my 6 year old Evan would call me Mommy! He said I Love you at age 2, now he can only said ya yu. It breaks my heart and so did your story. It’s the story of 10’s of thousands of moms out there! We need to find a cure! Stay strong and positive and Happy Mother’s Day!

  9. “She threw various shards of language into the ether hoping the right person would pick up on them and somehow divine what she wanted or needed.” How amazingly well put. That was E, too. He pulled me around and also would just stand silently by the back door if he wanted to go outside, sometimes for a very long time if I was busy with baby G.

    Now, 8-plus years later, calling me “Mom” comes naturally. But it still feels like a miracle. Most people just have no idea how hard he’s worked to arrive at this place. Brooke, too. Happy belated Mother’s Day.

  10. This was beautiful! My 5 year old daughter was nonverbal and now at a speech delay. I’m so thankful to hear her say “mommy” “I love you”, and even her yelling “I want juice” in a quiet library.

    Hugs and sendind positive vibes to all us moms and dads with ASD children’

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